Adding ecological value to the urban lawnscape. Insect abundance and diversity in grass-free lawns

Abstract

Insect diversity may be declining even more rapidly than in plants and vertebrates, particularly in areas where indigenous habitats are replaced by an anthropogenic one. The most common component of anthropogenic greenspace is the ornamental lawn. Intensively managed and offering limited habitat opportunities for both plants and insects, lawns are biodiversity poor and ecologically insensitive. An alternative lawn format that positively influences biodiversity and reduces management requirements would be a useful tool in eco-friendly urban greenspace management. In investigating the potential for a forb-only alternative to the grass lawn we sampled both trial grassfree lawn formats and turf lawns to identify any influence that lawn composition and grass-free lawn specific mowing regimes might have on the abundance and diversity of insect families. In addition to the mowing regimes, both the composition and origin of lawn flora were found to significantly influence insect abundance and diversity and these factors rarely interacted. Native-only and mixed origin grass-free lawns hosted greater numbers of adult insects than found in turf and an equivalent diversity of insect families, however the mowing regime applied was distinct from traditional turf lawn management by being substantially less intensive and our results suggest that there is the potential for even greater abundance and diversity via the grass-free format that may offer additional resources to insectivorous garden species such as birds. When the composition of grass-free lawns included native forbs the diversity of insect families was found be sufficiently different from turf lawns to form distinct assemblages and in so doing contribute to beta diversity within urban greenspace. In sum, grass-free lawns may be a useful and aesthetically appropriate tool for adding value to the generally biodiversity poor urban lawnscape.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Timothy Latter for insect collection and the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain, the Garden Centre Association’s Dick Allen Scholarship Fund, Mr Simon Bass and the Finnis-Scott Foundation for kindly supporting this study.

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Correspondence to Lionel S. Smith.

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Communicated by Dirk Sven Schmeller.

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Smith, L.S., Broyles, M.E.J., Larzleer, H.K. et al. Adding ecological value to the urban lawnscape. Insect abundance and diversity in grass-free lawns. Biodivers Conserv 24, 47–62 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0788-1

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Keywords

  • Urban biodiversity
  • Created vegetation
  • Novel ecosystems
  • Urban gardening
  • Arthropods